Written by Charlotte Mac Kay.
A ceasefire between Russia and Turkey in the Syrian province of Idlib went into effect Friday morning, March 5. The agreement puts a pause on three months of intense conflict which has left nearly one million civilians displaced and dozens of soldiers dead.
The Syrian conflict has been an ongoing nine-year crisis, but the situation between the Turkish, who support Syrian rebel groups, and the Russian government, who support Syrian President Bashar Assad has escalated since late December of 2019. Idlib has especially become an area of conflict as Russian troops have advanced, seeking to destroy the remaining rebel strongholds in Syria. The conflict has displaced over 900,000 civilians in the last few weeks, leaving families without shelter or food in the winter months. As the conflict has intensified, airstrikes and severe bombing have carpeted the region. A deadly airstrike on Feb. 28 killed 34 Turkish soldiers and a series of retaliatory bombings killed dozens of Syrian soldiers.
After this increase in violence, a ceasefire agreement was reached between Syria and Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brokered the agreement on March 6, after a six hour phone call. The ceasefire went into effect at 12:01 am local time on March 7. The agreement establishes a one mile security corridor both north and south of Syria’s M4 highway, which has become the center of recent fighting and will be patrolled by joint Russian and Turkish troops during the ceasefire. After announcing the accord, Putin said that it could “serve as a good basis for ending fighting,” but Edrogan emphasized that the Turkish army reserves the right to “retaliate with all strength against any attack” from Assad-supporting forces. Both countries, however, have highlighted their strong relationship beyond the Syrian conflict, with Erdoğan saying Turkey would “not allow the forces of the regime to harm our relations with Russia.” Despite supporting different sides of the conflict, the two countries have worked toward developing a growing trade relationship.
International and humanitarian groups, however, have expressed concerns that the ceasefire will not last. The United Nations (UN) has stressed the importance of getting more aid into the region and working to mitigate the humanitarian crises in the region. “We do hope that this will hold. That is the most important thing for the children and for their families. We need to have a cessation of all hostilities and we need it now,” The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund’s executive director Henreitta Ford told The Associated Press on Friday. The UN has appealed for further involvement in Syria after the ceasefire, stressing the importance of getting aid to the “most vulnerable.” They are especially interested in further access to Idlib and Northeastern Syria, where the refugee camp al-Hal is hosting another 60,000 individuals, including over 28,000 children and numerous victims of the Islamic State. In the same interview with the Associated Press, Ford said that the UN is “continuously asking for access. We are asking that every country repatriate the children and their mothers.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that the ceasefire has brought relative calm to Idlib. However, political officials in Turkey, Syria and Russia say that the ceasefire may only be temporary, depending on international relations and on the extent of Assad’s interest in reclaiming the remaining rebel territory in Idlib.